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HELEN: Kia Ora, welcome to the Have2Travel Show. I am your host, Helen Brahms, from Cruise Planners. And today, I am super excited because I have a client who recently returned from her first trip to New Zealand and the Cook Islands. So she spent a couple weeks in New Zealand and a few days in the Cook Islands before heading back to California.
My guest today is Noelle Ortland, and like I said, she’s from California, a first-timer to New Zealand and the Cook Islands. So we’re going to get her impressions on what it was like being in New Zealand, some of the fun things she got to do, and believe me, she got to do some really cool stuff. Wait ‘till you hear her trip. It just sounds amazing. So Noelle, welcome to the show, and thank you so much for taking time out of your day to come on the show and tell us about your time in New Zealand and the Cook Islands.
NOELLE: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
HELEN: Oh, believe me, it is my pleasure. So Noelle, you had planned this trip down to New Zealand. You get on the plane. You’re on there for long enough to have two meals, two movies and a sleep, although it’s probably not what you did. So… And then you arrive in Auckland, and it’s two days after you left for New Zealand. So some people are going to say that’s a long flight, but we have the International Date Line to thank for that. So you arrived in Auckland, and what was your impression when you arrived in Auckland?
NOELLE: It was just like any sort of airport. You come out, and I was—everybody was super friendly and helpful along the way, like “Go here. Go there.” And I arrived at my hotel after a short little skip and a jump to the hotel. And then I hit the town. I dropped off my bags and true to all international travel, where you act like you’re fully adjusted to the time zone.
So I was not thinking about what time it was in California, and it was morning in Auckland. So I just started walking around the city. And I have to say, it’s like any other big city. So I walked all the way down to the harbor to see the ferries and the sailboats, and all kinds of stuff. Very walkable city. Everybody was friendly. A lot of nice—I grabbed some food, breakfast, along the way at a coffee shop there along the route. And it was—everybody was bustling about because obviously it was their work week, but I was just sort of milling about. Beautiful, clean city.
HELEN: Excellent. And I have to say, I love the harbor area down there, where they’ve got the viaduct harbor and you get to see all the yachts and the marina, and there’s some very nice boats down in that marina down there.
NOELLE: Oh yeah, and a lot of nice parks too.
HELEN: Oh yes.
NOELLE: Around the city.
HELEN: We love our parks.
NOELLE: Which I was surprised. I kind of hit, I think it was called Albert Park.
HELEN: Oh yep, right there in downtown.
NOELLE: Close to the hotel. So yeah, that was the one that I hit first, and I just sort of was walking around from there. And it was—you do love your parks, and the outside spaces. It seems like everybody’s outside when they can be.
HELEN: Well New Zealand grew up with the mentality—I don’t know about most people, but in our family it was if it’s not raining, you’re outside.
NOELLE: Yeah, and that’s kind of what I got. It was like it was a little bit cold, but everybody was outside regardless.
HELEN: Yeah. If it wasn’t raining, you’re outside. And even in the summertime, if it was raining and it was warm, you were out. Put your swimsuit on and go outside. I did that many times. So then the next day, we had to get you up super early. So I apologize for the very early start that day while you were on vacation. And you took a bus that went from Auckland to Rotorua, but it also stopped at the Waitomo Caves. How was that bus trip, and what were the Waitomo Caves like for you?
NOELLE: I have to say, I wouldn’t generally use the term bus, because this was like a full-on, comfortable coach ride. And the ride actually was beautiful, going through some of the countryside and seeing things that I guess you normally wouldn’t see if you were either driving or if you flew to different places. And it was beautiful seeing a lot of the—I don’t know if you’d call them farms, or whatnot, along the way.
And then when we actually got to the caves, and they kind of do the rundown of—I didn’t really know what to expect, glow worm caves. Is this going to be a big deal? A small deal? What’s going on? But they actually give you the rundown, and it’s really efficient. They give you some—you get to sing in the cave, which I think we sang “Happy Birthday” just to hear the acoustics inside the caves. And wonderful guide that just sort of talked to you about the area and the history. And then you get in these boats, and it’s pitch black, and you’re thinking “Huh? Glow worms in a cave? Okay.” So you get in this boat and there’s little glow worms, like twinkly stars, hanging from the ceiling. And I guess there’s cables along the top of the cave, and so they’re sort of like pulling the boat around, and it’s funny how quiet everybody is and you’re just looking around. And it’s super, super peaceful. And then they sort of bring you out the other side and you’re in a fern grotto, sort of, where it’s all green and lush. And then we came out, and we had a nice little picnic lunch, and got back on the bus.
HELEN: Excellent. Now the one thing I like about the caves is that when you look up at those glow worms, it’s hard to believe that you’re actually in a cave, and you just think that it’s dark and you’re looking at a starry sky.
HELEN: It’s unbelievable how peaceful and quiet it is in there.
NOELLE: And reading the descriptions and everything, it still doesn’t—it describes sort of the—but the experience is so much more than the description in the guide book.
HELEN: Yeah, absolutely. And they—one of the reasons that it’s so quiet in there is that if you make noise, the glow worms actually turn the lights off and it can take them several days to get them back on again. So that’s why they’re very strict about the noise down in that level. But it’s interesting you mentioned the caves and the acoustics. We were in there, when I was last in there, nobody in the group wanted to sing.
But there was another group just behind us. And the guy there started singing “Pokarekare Ana” which is a well-known love song in New Zealand. And those acoustics in that cave are just incredible, when you hear one person just singing, and you’ve got this perfect sound show. It was just amazing. I’m glad you got to experience that singing “Happy Birthday.”
NOELLE: Yeah. There was a show-off group behind us, where there was obviously somebody that was a professional or amateur singer, and they were doing their own sort of song, and it kind of made our “Happy Birthday” sort of, you know, anti-climactic.
HELEN: [Laughter] Okay. So then we got back on the bus, the coach, and went to Rotorua, and we had you staying at one near the downtown area. So did you just go out exploring that afternoon, or what did you do?
NOELLE: Absolutely. You know one of the first things that they mentioned was all of the steam vents around the city, and to not put your hands over them obviously. Because you don’t want to burn your skin off. But that was kind of interesting, because “Where am I actually?” So I just walked from the hotel straight down to the lake. And that part of the lake, it has—I mean you can obviously smell the sulfur, bubbling mud water. And the Polynesian spa was right there.
NOELLE: And so it’s just beautiful, looking across this lake and then seeing the steam be up off the water, and then sort of looking to the other side of the lake. And it just seems like a normal, non-volcanic lake area.
NOELLE: But downtown was very. There is—and I can’t remember the one street—oh I think it’s Eat Streat, isn’t it? But it’s blocked off and there’s just restaurants in there.
HELEN: Eat Streat.
NOELLE: That was one of the things that I did. Yeah. At night, that was a great place to just grab a drink and a bite to eat. And then I also did the museum.
HELEN: Oh, cool.
NOELLE: Yeah, and they were having—that was actually, it’s a nice I don’t want to say quaint little museum, but I mean it’s a smaller museum that I did on the trip. But it had this very cool—because I guess it was there right before ANZAC week.
HELEN: Yeah. It was a couple of weeks before ANZAC began.
NOELLE: Yeah. So they had a lot of exhibits about the war, World War II. And so that was pretty interesting too, because seeing it from the American perspective, like we have our own sort of history or World War I and World War II, and seeing it from the New Zealand standpoint, and their role and everything, was a lot different.
HELEN: Awesome. I’m glad you got to do that. So the next day, we had you scheduled for White Island, but unfortunately they cancelled that and you ended up doing a different tour instead in a helicopter. So which tour did you do?
NOELLE: Yeah, Mount Tarawera, which was a shorter tour, but it had—and so this was actually my first time on a helicopter, which I have to say I didn’t really know what to expect. But it was absolutely fabulous. There is no greater perspective of a landscape than seeing something by helicopter.
HELEN: Oh, and I can totally relate to that.
NOELLE: Yeah, so they drop you on—you land on top of Mount Tarawera, and it’s like a 360-degree view. And we actually had a view all the way out. You could see White Island off the coast. It was one of the clearest days, they said that they’d had all year.
HELEN: Oh, brilliant! That’s awesome.
NOELLE: So we could see everything. It was just—while you could see the trails.
HELEN: And for those that don’t know, Mount Tarawera is a mountain that, in the 1800s, literally blew its top. And it lost, I can’t remember how many cubic feet went off the top of this mountain. But when you see it, it’s this great big, long scar across the top of the mountain. And it buried a village, and you can actually go see a place called the Buried Village, and they show you everything that’s been dug out.
But it also buried the Pink and White Terraces, which at the time were one of the Seven Wonders of the World. So somewhere under hundreds of thousands of pounds of mud are the pink and white terraces. That’s a really cool thing to see from the air, is Mount Tarawera. And just to see how much of it blew, just blew and landed all around the area and just buried everything. When you see it from the air, like in a helicopter like you did, Noelle, it’s still hard to comprehend that that much dirt and mud went flying.
NOELLE: Oh, absolutely. The sheer magnitude of the crater on the top, and then the area when you can see, obviously, the area that was impacted, it’s just unbelievable.
HELEN: Yep. Okay, so we finished that tour. And then you went to the Tamaki Maori village for their Hangi concert. How did you enjoy some cultural immersion in New Zealand?
NOELLE: That was, I have to say, one of the most—I don’t want to say hilarious, because it was at the expense of—because they get some of the other tourists there to participate in the games, or they teach you how to do some of the dances and whatnot. And to me, that was the most entertaining thing I had seen all day.
HELEN: Oh, excellent.
NOELLE: Where people tried to mimic some of the—and everybody probably knows, the Maori, the faces that they make with their tongues sticking out, and the intimidation, sort of dances and whatnot. And seeing a bunch of tourists try to imitate it was—you realize how hard it is to actually keep a straight face, and how hard it is to do some of the dancing and some of the games, and some of the skills that they had as actual warriors, when you get in there and you try to do it.
So that was outstanding. And they did a really good job of explaining everything, the culture and how things came about, and how it’s changed, even to—with today, with them trying to keep their culture intact in this sort of modern age. And then everything was completely interactive. Then they go through the Hangi, or the meal, and how they cooked everything. And then we had dinner. They basically took everything out of the ground, and they took the dinner out, and then we were able to eat. And that was some of the best food that I’ve ever had. It was outstanding.
HELEN: I’m sitting here doing a little happy dance, because I know how good Hangi food is. But I totally understand—
NOELLE: Yeah, I mean it was—
HELEN: —about people—yeah, sorry, carry on.
NOELLE: Yeah, people that, you know, aren’t very familiar with it, or they think a Polynesian sort of Hangi meal, more sort of like a Hawaiian luau or something like that, and it’s somewhat similar, but also completely different. And the food, it has this flavor from being cooked in that way that is just—you’re not going to get anywhere else.
HELEN: Absolutely. So the difference between a luau and a Hangi is that a luau is cooked in a pit above ground and buried, whereas a Hangi, they actually dig a pit. They heat up rocks. They put the rocks at the bottom of the pit. Then they put the food down on top of the rocks and bury everything. So everything is steamed in the ground. So you get that earth flavor coming through, which you cannot replicate in any restaurant.
You cannot replicate that flavor. It is just unbelievable. And I’ve had both luau and Hangi, and give me Hangi any day. I mean the luau food was really good, but I’m sorry, there’s just nothing that can match the flavor of a Hangi, and I’m—maybe because it’s I grew up with it, but you just can’t match the flavor of it. It’s just, like you said, you just can’t taste anything else like it. You’ve never tasted anything like it. So did you get to do the singing in the bus on the way back?
NOELLE: Oh, absolutely. Of course it was singing in the bus on the way back. Yep, it was all kinds of—
HELEN: I love those bus drivers they have.
NOELLE: Yeah, it was pretty funny. Whoever thought that you’d be singing at the top of your lungs at the end of the night. But yeah, there we were.
HELEN: That’s awesome. So you had a great day. You got to see a mountain that blew its top. You got to experience the culture. And then the next day, we flew you down to Wellington, which is the capital of New Zealand. And what fun did you have there in the capital of New Zealand?
NOELLE: That, again, was I got there and then I just walked around the city. And I think Wellington was—Wellington and Queenstown were definitely my two favorite cities. Wellington, just all the history. We went to the botanic gardens, St. Paul’s cathedral, which is the gothic style church that’s all wood. And it’s also where the Americans, their last stop really before they were deployed into the South Pacific. So you walk inside the church, and there’s an American flag, and the New Zealand flag. And there’s just so much history there, and the stained glass windows, and it’s so peaceful. It’s just beautiful. And seeing the beehives. Government building.
NOELLE: Was quite—was not what I expected at all. But the city is small enough to be manageable and clean, and again, everybody was super friendly. And there’s just no shortage of places to go or things to see, really.
HELEN: And when you went to the botanical gardens, did you go up in a cable car, or did you walk there?
NOELLE: Yeah, no we went in the cable car, took the cable car down.
NOELLE: So yeah, and that was a lot of fun too. I mean it’s something that I think you have to do. You know, thinking cable car in San Francisco, I’m thinking a different kind of cable car. But it was—yeah, the easiest way to get up and down a hill is by far that cable car.
HELEN: And the view from the top of the cable car is pretty spectacular too, because that’s one of my favorite. It’s one of the most photographed views of Wellington, and yet it’s still—even though it’s the most photographed and one of the most seen with the cable car in the foreground and the city behind it, and sometimes you see the shot without the cable car there, it’s still to this day one of my most favorite views of Wellington.
NOELLE: Mm-hmm. It’s gorgeous.
HELEN: And then you did the sites tour around Wellington the next day, where you did the tour that took you around Wellington. So where did that one take you, and what did you get to see on that one?
NOELLE: It took us around some of the main streets that you should see in Wellington, and then to the top of Mount Victoria, which was really cool. That’s another outstanding view, 360 view, of Wellington and the coastline. And then they also took us past a little surfing beach, which was interesting just because I’m thinking “God, that water must be cold.”
But there were a bunch of surfers out there enjoying it regardless. There were a bunch of people walking on the beaches. And the day was just beautiful. It was clear and sunny, and it was pretty warm. So it was just a great day to be sort of driving around and seeing, getting an overview of the city from the driver.
HELEN: Excellent. And so did they show you the Kaikouras on the South Island from Wellington? Where you could see the mountain range in the distance across the water?
NOELLE: Yeah, you could see it a little bit. OH, the other thing that we didn’t see, although we saw the sign that they were around, were the penguins.
HELEN: Yep. It is a lot of penguins in New Zealand.
NOELLE: Yeah, there was. I had no sighting, although my eyes were peeled. I didn’t get to see any, but I have confidence that they were there somewhere.
HELEN: We have a few varieties of penguins in New Zealand, and sometimes they come out and say hi, and sometimes they decide to hide. So I’m sorry they decided to hide on the day that you were there. Every time I take my husband to New Zealand, he will tell me that there’s no mountains in New Zealand. He sees the bases of them, but he’s never yet seen the tops of them.
Because every time I take him to New Zealand, all the mountains are under cloud and he’ll see the base and that’s it. So he tells me that, whenever he sees like Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and everything else, with those mountains in there, he goes “No, it’s just been Photo shopped in.” “I don’t know dear. I promise you they are there.” So you didn’t get to see the penguins. My husband didn’t get to see the mountains.
NOELLE: Yeah, and I had good weather the entire time that I was in New Zealand, and I have to say that when he sees the tops of those mountains, it’s going to knock his socks off. Because it is just astonishing. The pictures don’t do it justice, seeing it in real life.
HELEN: Absolutely. Okay, so then the next day, we—after your day of sightseeing around Wellington, you got to hop on the inter-island ferry and go from the North island to the South Island. Now not many of my clients choose that option. Most of them choose to fly between the islands. But I would like to hear from you what your experience was like on the ferry, and how you felt about that.
NOELLE: I loved the ferry. And I’ve taken ferries in a lot of different places around the world, and I think that this was a great way—you know what I mean? You have the option of being outside and seeing the view as you’re going through, and when you first leave Wellington, and you’re on the ferry, I mean you get to see, again, looking back, the city in a different perspective. And then you go through some smaller islands and stuff, and you can see—I mean there’s people that live way out, where they only have access, it seems like, by boat.
NOELLE: Some of these houses and stuff along the way. And how the scenery sort of changes, and the vegetation changes, and the colors of the water. I mean to me, it’s the best of both worlds, because you get the option of being outside in the fresh air.
And then of course, I had the premium lounge membership with the ferry, and that was just fabulous because it was like food and drink, and nice, comfy chairs. So you could go out, sit on deck and enjoy the scenery. And then if you get cold, or tired, or hungry, or thirsty, just go back in and sit in your plush chair and make yourself a fresh coffee from the espresso machine and then have a snack.
HELEN: Excellent. And how—
NOELLE: That was with Wi-Fi.
HELEN: With Wi-Fi?
NOELLE: Yeah. So it’s like everything you could ever want. Yeah, going through, I mean it was a smooth trip. I have to say. Like it didn’t seem like you were on a boat at all.
HELEN: There are days that you know you’re on that ferry. You’ll get bobbed around, and the Cook Straight is one of those stretches of water, and for those who don’t know, the Cook Straight is the piece between the North island and the South Island. And it’s where the Tasman and the Pacific meet each other. There are days that they are fighting, and you get some really good swells.
I have been on the ferry, and beautiful, calm, where the water’s been like a mirror, and I’ve been on it where it has been 12-foot swells without a problem. Well, I didn’t ever have a problem on those ferries with motion sickness, but other people do. But that’s okay, because I just sit in my little spot and I’m happy. So you would have gone through the Cook Straight and then come in through Marlborough Sound on the way down to get into Picton.
And to me that is one of the most picturesque rides on the ferry, is when you go into the Marlborough Sound, and you’ve got these dots of islands everywhere, and they slow the ferry right down so it looks like you’re crawling through the sound area there to get to Picton. So I think it’s one of the most picturesque scenery areas of New Zealand with that. So what was your impression of the Marlborough Sound?
NOELLE: It was absolutely gorgeous. And the water was flat, and it was sunny. So the colors were just outstanding. And I laughed, because I’m like “Oh, you know, I’ll take a lot of pictures.” This was a scene, because I felt like I was not putting my camera down. Because it was like “Oh, that’s beautiful. Take a picture of that. Oh my God, look at that. Oh, there’s another island there. Oh, look at the color of the water changed.” It was like I felt like I was out of control.
HELEN: Sounds like my husband on his first trip to Milford Sound, with the camera. I don’t think his camera left his eyes at all.
NOELLE: Yeah, at some point I was like “Okay, just put the camera away and just sit here and enjoy the view.”
HELEN: Yeah, New Zealand kind of has that tendency to do that, especially those that love photography, and even those that don’t love photography soon learn to like photography in New Zealand, because there’s just so much that they want to capture.
NOELLE: And it’s so easy to take a good picture.
HELEN: Yes. Yeah, you don’t get very many bad pictures of New Zealand, especially when it comes to its scenery. So then we took the bus from Nelson down to—I’m sorry, from Picton to Nelson. And how did you find—what was your impression of Nelson?
NOELLE: I—you know Nelson seemed like it was a smaller town, or the area that I was in. My hotel was sort of centrally located. I just walked up the hill to a little cathedral. And then again, it had a nice downtown, where it was easy to just find a restaurant. And actually when I got there, a lot of stuff was closed, but there was one restaurant where I ended up, at a pizza parlor above something else, and it was like a bunch of locals were there having dinner.
So it was like family style. You just sit at a table with people, and then you just start chatting and learn a little bit about Nelson and the things to do and see. The number one thing was “Well, when are you going to Abel Tasman?” So that was sort of the next thing, and I did that the next day.
HELEN: And what did you do the next day with the Abel Tasman? Because this is a really cool experience. Well I think it’s a really cool experience. But how did you find it?
NOELLE: It was amazing. So it was like, I think what, an hour, just over an hour bus ride. They pick you up in Nelson, and then you go to—I don’t remember what the name—is Abel Tasman the name of the city? No.
HELEN: No, Abel Tasman actually is a park, the area that you were in.
NOELLE: Is it Kaiteriteri the city, or the little town that—
NOELLE: That you get the boat.
HELEN: Kaiteriteri, yep.
NOELLE: And so you—first the scenery along the way, before you even get into the park is just outstanding. And then so you get there and you talk to people. So it was you get on this little ferry, and then they drop you off with your guide. And I did a kayaking trip, a couple-hour kayaking thing. So they drop you off on this beach, and then you get in your kayak and you go around some of the coastline there.
And we actually saw fur seals. The first one popped its head up out of the water at us, and we were all so shocked that we just kind of looked at each other and by the time we got our cameras out, the seal was long gone. So we did find where they were hanging out on a couple of rocks, and it became like this “Is that a seal? No, that’s not a seal. Is that a seal? No, that’s not a seal. No, it is a seal.”
So finally, after much debate, you kind of paddle over, and it’s like “Oh yeah, it is.” And so we got some really cool pictures of the seals. But again, you just like pull your kayak up on this beach and you just go hiking around the park a little bit. And it was perfect. There were hardly—I don’t know what, crowds to me, coming from California, are like hundreds of people in a park. And so we pulled on this beach, and there was like three other people. So it was—
HELEN: Yeah, that would be a crowd in New Zealand.
NOELLE: I was like it was funny. But just the scenery is gorgeous. The beaches, the sand, the super soft. The water was a little chilly, but then I’m there, what—it was fall.
HELEN: Correct, it was the fall at that time.
NOELLE: Yeah. But again, the weather was perfect. It was still sunny, clear and sort of warm. So I have absolutely no complaints. And then you kayak back to the beach that you start out with, and then you walk in the water, and the bigger boat picks you up and then they ferry you back to the little town. So all in all, it was a perfect day.
HELEN: Brilliant. Yeah, I liked the kayak thing. And I’m not—I mean I used to be one of those people who was fairly active. I was fairly active as a kid growing up, but the older you get, the less active you get. Still I find that kayak thing wasn’t too strenuous for me. But then we had a beautiful day where it was calm waters as well. So if the waters are a little choppy, I don’t know. Maybe I would have some difficulty. But for me, it’s one of those, it’s an easy kayak to be able to do, for those that are—
NOELLE: And I think they make it—kind of talk to you about how much—if you’ve ever been kayaking before or whatever, and then depending on the conditions. I mean we had really good conditions. So we were lucky. But I think they are pretty good at tailoring it to the groups that they have, which is excellent.
HELEN: Awesome. I’m so glad you enjoyed that one, because that’s one of my favorite ones to put people on, especially if they’re interested in the wildlife and the scenery and wanting to get out and do something adventurous, because I feel that’s a good thing to do. So then the next day we flew you from Nelson down to Christchurch, and how did you find—what did you think of Christchurch? Remembering that it’s—
NOELLE: I loved Christchurch.
HELEN: It’s still recovering from the earthquake of 2011. But yeah, what did you—
NOELLE: That was the funny thing, that the shuttle driver was like—when they picked me up from the airport and was driving me to the hotel, and it ends up that the hotel that I was staying at, the Novotel, was right next to the cathedral which was completely really destroyed in the earthquake. The hotel that I was staying at was kind of the only one that was left—building that was left in that square, and they were doing construction all around it.
And so they were explaining to me that “Oh, you know there was an earthquake, and there’s a lot of construction around here.” I was like “You know what? It’s alright. You don’t need to explain any further. I’m from San Francisco, Earthquakes, I’m totally comfortable with. I know what havoc goes along with it. And I work in the construction industry, so I’m totally find with that too.”
Everybody else was like laughing in the shuttle bus, because I think everybody is maybe a little bit surprised when they get to Christchurch and they see everything still going on, but it’s recovery from an earthquake like that takes a long time.
NOELLE: But the ingenuity of the Kiwis is quite something, because they have all those shipping containers where they’ve created a mall, basically like an outdoor shopping area out of these shipping containers, and there was a really cool Greek place in there. Then they had ice cream. Which Hokey Pokey Ice Cream, I’ve never had before. I guess that’s a New Zealand thing.
HELEN: Yes, it is. How did you like it?
NOELLE: It was quite interesting. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I think I need like four or five more cones of Hokey Pokey to really decide. But yeah, I mean that whole, whoever would have thought you could put a really nice retail establishment in a shipping container. And they can move it around as they are constructing in different areas. And you still get people what they need.
HELEN: The mall you’re talking about is called Re-Start Mall, and they actually had built it as a temporary mall just to help get things while things are being rebuilt, but it’s become so popular they’re now keeping it permanently.
NOELLE: Yeah. I mean I can’t even imagine. And then Christchurch in general, it is just—there’s like what? The river or creek that kind of goes through there.
HELEN: Avon River.
HELEN: Avon River and Hagley Park.
NOELLE: It was just beautiful. People were running and walking, and just hanging out in the park, because the weather was so beautiful. And it was—it was once again, I feel like I’m harping on the scenery or whatnot, but it was just one of the most beautiful cities.
HELEN: Yeah, Christchurch is my favorite city. I lived there for 2 ½ years, and every weekend I would get on my bike as long as the weather was fine, or even if it was overcast, and I’d just get on my bike and go cycling around the city. And cycling, because I’ve got the Air Force base, when they used to have an Air Force base there, and I would cycle down Riccarton Road to Hagley Park and just spend the day cycling around the park and walking around through the botanical gardens, because it’s one of my favorite places.
I have yet to go back to Christchurch since the earthquake, and I’m kind of like dreading it because the cathedral there was one of my favorite places to go. Because I liked going up into the bell tower, because you could get this really great view looking out over Christchurch.
And when you get up there and have a look at the view, you see that the square is the center of the city, and everything goes out in spokes like a wheel from the center of the city. And you can see that very clearly when you’re up there in the bell tower. So I mean it was a beautiful cathedral, and so I’m kind of dreading when I do go back and it’s not going to be there, and I think I’m going to get pretty emotional about it. Just because—
NOELLE: Yeah, I was curious to know what they were going to do, if they were going to leave part of the cathedral up or if they were going to take the whole thing down. Because it’s kind of in limbo right now.
HELEN: Yeah, there’s a lot of discussions and debates and everything going on about it. Did you see the cardboard cathedral while you were there?
NOELLE: No, I did not.
HELEN: Okay. I should have told you about that one. I apologize for that. But they actually built a cathedral, and I don’t know where they’ve put it. So I’ll have to go and find that out. But they built it out of cardboard. Some Japanese designer, I think it was Japanese. I can’t remember who the architect was for it. And I’m like “Okay, that’s going to be interesting to go and see.” I’ve seen pictures of it, and it looks absolutely gorgeous and stunning. So I’m curious to go and see this cardboard cathedral when I get there.
HELEN: And then the next day we put you on the Trans-Alpine from Christchurch to Greymouth, where you’re basically cutting across the middle of the South Island, going coast to coast throughout this pass, and how was the train ride?
NOELLE: It was really cool. Like I don’t know. I like trains. And I think it—you can’t not have fun on a train. So you get there, and it was like this nice, plush seat, and everybody—you could tell everybody’s kind of excited about the train. And we get on the train and then of course they have the food car, and then they have the viewing car, where you could take pictures and whatnot.
But the ride was smooth. It was comfortable. The scenery, because obviously the train had the big windows and whatnot, and so everybody was just taking pictures and looking out. And then they have this headset that you put on, that as you’re going and the different stops on the train, you can listen and they give you history and stories of the area, which is—so it’s almost you can either listen or not listen, obviously, but to me it was really helpful in getting sort of an overview of the area and how it’s changed.
Because all the time you’re either driving or you’re looking at something, you’re like “God, I wonder what that is.” Or “I wonder what that’s about.” And here, they’re telling you the whole time. And then we stopped at the top, I guess it’s the top of Arthur’s Pass, where they have the station. And that was pretty cool. It was colder than it looked outside, but it was refreshing nonetheless.
And you really realize how the altitude that you’re at. And then the other thing was we went past—and I guess they call them—you would know this better, but they call them stations, when there’s so many acres of land. They’re not farms anymore, they’re stations.
HELEN: Yeah, the sheep stations.
NOELLE: Yeah. And so that was pretty cool, being up in the high mountain passes, and then all of a sudden there’s some sheep. On the side of the tracks doing their thing. And then you’re like “What could possibly be up here?” And then you see a little house or whatnot, and you’re like “My goodness. We’re all the way up at this altitude in the back country, and there’s a sheep station.” But yeah, that was pretty cool too.
HELEN: Excellent. And then you got to pick up a rental car in Greymouth. So how was that driving in New Zealand on the opposite side of the road, sitting on the opposite side of the car?
NOELLE: I had convinced myself that I was fine, until I actually got off the train, and then I did this kind of “Ugh, oh my God. I have to drive on the opposite side of the road.” And then I was sort of nervously laughing as I’m going through the rental agreement, and she’s talking to me about what the different signs mean, and the rules of the road in New Zealand. And so I get up to my car, which I ended up calling the Little Blue Devil, which was this little blue car.
And I inhaled and exhaled a couple of times, put my stuff in the back seat and hopped on in. And you know what? It was totally fine. I think I was meant to drive on the other side of the road. I had no problems with it at all until I went to use my turn signal and I had turned on the wiper blades. Because those are opposite too. And that was the one thing that I could not get through my head. It’s like trying to erase 30-something odd years of driving one way and then just trying to turn it around and do it the other way. But I mean it was perfect.
HELEN: Excellent. So you drove down the coast there to Franz Josef?
HELEN: And how was the drive down the coast?
NOELLE: Oh honey, you feel like you’re almost not going anywhere because you’re stopping so much and pulling off to the side of the road to look at things. And then I’m the kind of person that I see a little café or a little hole in the wall restaurant, and I have to stop and get a snack or a bit to eat or see what it’s all about. And so I felt like it was taking me a really long time to get anywhere.
But it was all good. I made it to Franz Josef and it was still daylight. So that’s all I was hoping for. And then the scenery just sort of changed. When you go over these bridges, over like—there’s different sort of creeks or rivers depending on the size.
And you’re just like—oh, I got a peek, I got a view of the mountain going across one of these little one-lane bridges, and that’s kind of—the right of way’s kind of weird on those because sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t. And so that was a little weird. So going across one of these rivers, I just happened to look sort of in country. And then I see that the clouds had parted, and right there was a snow-covered peak.
HELEN: Wow! I love it when that happens.
NOELLE: And I just sort of gasped, and I’m like “Oh my God, there it is.” And I snapped a picture, because there was nobody coming either direction, and I was like “I probably shouldn’t have done that.” And so it was just astonishing. And the scenery just kept changing but it was getting better and better the closer I got to—well I felt, the closer I got to Franz Josef, and the potential glaciers that were on the horizon.
HELEN: And so then the next day you actually did a Heli-hike from Franz Josef. So you’ve never been in a helicopter before. You did one up in Rotorua to see Mount Tarawera, and now you’re down in Franz Josef, and you’re now taking your second helicopter ride, and you’re going up on the glacier. How was that?
NOELLE: I was so giddy as I was at the place waiting. And it’s funny, because they give you the boots and the socks, and the waterproof pants to pull over, and a jacket, and all this gear. Because obviously that’s not the kind of thing that you would normally take on your vacation. And so they get you all ready, and as we’re walking to the airfield, to the helicopter, it’s like my excitement is just through the roof.
And so I—we get in the helicopter and then they take off, and they’re going through. And then you actually see the glacier, and it’s just like “Holy cow. Seriously? We’re going to land on that?” And they go around and they do the overview, and then yes, they actually just land the helicopter on the glacier. And so you’re climbing out of the helicopter and you’re on this glacier and there’s a guide there to meet you.
And then they put your crampons on and then you basically go around for a hike for a couple hours, I think, on this glacier. And you almost can’t believe that you’re there doing that. And so we were climbing through ice tunnels, because we found an area where there was a little tunnel.
And you had to sort of—thank God I’m not a large woman, but you had to sort of shimmy yourself through this little tunnel thing. And just the pictures and the fact that you’re there. And it was warm. Most of us ended up just being in our t-shirts and then just the pants because all the other layers, it was just such a nice, sunny day that it was warm. And I got to fill up my water bottle with actual glacier water.
HELEN: There’s nothing like fresh glacier water. Nothing like it.
NOELLE: And it is perfectly chilled.
HELEN: Yes. That was one of my favorites, when we went hiking on the mountain, was to get that fresh mountain water, just go stand in the river and fill up my water bottles and just drink that water. I could drink gallons of the stuff. There’s just nothing like it.
NOELLE: Yeah, it was amazing. And so that was just—that was a great experience. I highly recommend that trip.
HELEN: Yep. And then the next day you drove down to Queenstown. So what did you think of Queenstown?
NOELLE: I loved Queenstown. So it was a little—I had to say the GPS in the car and that whole thing was a little nerve wracking, because there’s really only one road really into Queenstown. And it was—I was trying to look at the scenery and figure out where I was going. Because you just drive down in, and then it’s just this big lake, and then you have the Remarkable mountains in the background, and it was like a clear day.
It was just astonishing how beautiful it was. And the color, because it was getting towards the end of the day, so the light that was hitting the mountains and the water, I mean it was just so beautiful. And then so I got to my hotel and then I was walking around, and they have this great sort of waterfront area with restaurants and where they have—
People are doing little skits, and there’s like entertainment. And then they had some—it was almost like—not like a craft area, but people were selling locally made things. It was almost—stuff that they had knitted or paintings, or a lot of the jade jewelry or greenstone as they call it.
HELEN: Greenstone, yep.
NOELLE: Which was really cool to buy stuff directly from people that had made it.
HELEN: Oh, that’s awesome.
NOELLE: Yeah, so it was really nice.
HELEN: And then the next day, which was ANZAC Day, we had you going down to Milford Sound. And we had you going on the bus down during the cruise and then flying back.
NOELLE: Yeah, so that was another early start to the day with the bus ride. And—but see that was—our driver was really good, and he’s talking along the way and pointing out different things that we’re seeing. And again, seeing parts of the countryside as you go on the drive, and we stopped a couple times to take pictures and to see. It was called—was it Mirror Lake?
HELEN: Mirror Lake, yep. They have the sign Mirror Lake on the back of the lake and it reflects perfectly into the lake.
NOELLE: Yeah. And so we stopped there and took some pictures, and then some other—just to break up the bus ride, some other points along the way. And we stopped for coffee and a bite to eat, which was really cool. And then we actually got I guess down into the Milford Sound area, and you see the—what is it? The ferry, the boat? I don’t know what to call it.
HELEN: Just a boat. That will be fine.
NOELLE: The boat that you’re getting on. And then you get on the boat. And again, they had a picnic lunch for us. And then you start, and it’s just—all I can say is waterfalls everywhere. It had just rained two nights before I got there, or maybe the night before I got there. And so all of the waterfalls had water.
HELEN: So you’re not just getting the regular waterfalls that were there, you’re also getting what’s called the rain falls, which are the waterfalls that come after the rains.
HELEN: Yeah, that’s a spectacular time to be there.
NOELLE: And it was—it was a little chilly, so—and it was windy. And so you were running outside and taking pictures and running inside and drinking some hot cocoa or some coffee, then going back outside and zipping your jacket up. But it was just astonishing how many waterfalls, big, small, there were.
And the boat gets you right up to them. I mean literally, we were getting sprayed by the water at some point. And then they take you all the way out of the sound to the open sea. And again, we saw some seals, so that was cool. And a lot of birds. A lot of stuff along the way. So it was—we didn’t see any dolphins or penguins, but the seals—
HELEN: They were hiding again?
NOELLE: Hiding, yeah. I know, everything was just hiding at this point. But it was, I mean I can’t say it enough. The scenery is just unbelievable.
HELEN: And then you got to—then you had—you were supposed to go back on the plane, but they couldn’t fly because of the low clouds. But you did end up on your third helicopter ride.
NOELLE: I know. Don’t feel sorry for me, because I had to take another helicopter ride. I know, poor me. So yeah, I took another helicopter ride, and it was—I ended up meeting up with a group of Aussies that were there on holiday. And so it was—I mean we were cracking up the whole time, before we even got in the helicopter. And then he—you get in the helicopter and then you go up, and they’re taking you all over this amazing scenery that you’ve just driven through some of these valleys and whatnot.
And then in the helicopter, you’re getting to see all of these waterfalls and rain falls that you didn’t see from the boat. And then they’re taking you back to Queenstown. And so you’re going up close and personal with the Remarkable mountains. And then he’s like “Oh, let’s just land here for a few minutes.” So he basically lands the helicopter on the side of, I don’t know, unknown mountain to me, and then we’re taking pictures again.
He’s taking pictures of us posing with the helicopter in the background and with some of Queenstown in the background. It was just—you just sort of want to sit there and be like “I can’t believe that I’m doing this right now.” So yeah, spectacularly skilled helicopter pilots in the country. That’s all I have to say. Yeah.
HELEN: So then I take it that you kind of liked the helicopter rides?
NOELLE: I love—I want a helicopter. Forget a new car. Save money for a helicopter.
HELEN: And so then—
NOELLE: And then in New Zealand, to do that, you have to have helicopters.
HELEN: Absolutely. One time you might want to go, if you enjoy skiing, you might want to go down in the wintertime one time, because they take you heli-skiing, where they take you up into the helicopters to the top of the mountains, and they drop you on fresh virgin powder snow and then you ski down.
NOELLE: I think one of the other things that people were mentioning was like “Oh, no. We come back and we do this.” And I heard about that. I was like “God, that would be so much fun.”
HELEN: And then there’s a little town just north of Queenstown called Wanaka. And they actually do Heli-cycling, where they take you and your mountain bike up into the mountains, drop you off and then you cycle down the mountains on your mountain bikes, for those that are a little more adventurous.
NOELLE: Yeah, and I heard there were a couple other places, I think in Rotorua, that they were talking about, that they had all these different mountain bike trails that were opening up.
HELEN: Oh yeah, they have a lot of different—you’ve got the cycling trails for those who just—the weekend cyclers, and then you’ve got everything through to the high-adrenaline rush job mountain trails, for the mountain bikers who like the thrill of the trails and the challenges and stuff. So we have, in New Zealand, a lot of different cycling trails that you can do. And like you said, they are opening up a few more around Rotorua that are going to be some—that will have different grades based on your adrenaline, on your experience with mountain biking.
NOELLE: Or your need for adrenaline.
HELEN: Or your need for adrenaline, although I just tell people “You want an adrenaline, just go to Queenstown and open up their brochures and just stab at something, because you’re bound to hit something that will take your adrenaline through the roof.” Because it is the adventure capital of the world.
NOELLE: Well absolutely, it is. That’s what’s so funny about it is that you’re—it’s like no big deal to people that—to the Kiwis. But like to everybody else, it’s like “Wow, this is such an adventure.” And it’s like “Yeah, well this is just day to day.”
HELEN: Yeah, exactly. It kind of gets that way. So then we head to—so then it was time to leave New Zealand, and you went from Queenstown up to Auckland, and then flew across to the Cook Islands. So how were the Cook Islands for you?
NOELLE: Oh, oh I loved the Cook Islands. So beautiful, so low-key. Everybody is super nice. The water was so warm and clear. It was—I mean being from California, everybody goes to Hawaii. That’s like the closest tropical place. The Cook Islands has—are basically like Hawaii was 60 years ago, is what I imagined. It’s just everything’s not overly commercialized or anything like that. It’s just I don’t know, it’s just fabulous. I don’t know how else to explain it.
HELEN: Hawaii 60 years ago, before the tourists arrived.
NOELLE: Yeah. I mean everything just seems more authentic. It’s like there’s little—I don’t want to say like popup little shops or little places, cafes or places to eat along the island. But it’s like everything just seems more authentic.
HELEN: Yes. Yes, definitely. And the hotel you—the resort we had you staying at, they put you on a beachfront villa there, didn’t they?
NOELLE: I was so spoiled. Yes, I was on the beachfront villa. It’s like you wake up in the morning and you sit up, and it’s like “Oh, there’s the lovely beach and the beautiful water.” Yeah, completely spoiled. It’s like I could never go back. I could never go back and be in like one of the other rooms that you would have to walk to the beach. It wouldn’t work.
HELEN: And then the next day we had you up early so you could fly across to Aitutaki to do the Aitutaki day tour over there on the Te Vaka. And if anybody’s listened to the podcast previously that I did with John Gunning, we were talking about the Cook Islands, and we talked about that day on the Te Vaka, which is a Polynesian catamaran. So how did you find Aitutaki and your day on the Te Vaka?
NOELLE: That was so much fun. So they pick you up from—and they call it the bus, which is like an open air bus with huge tires. It seemed more like an all-terrain bus. And so you’re just driving around the island, which they go around the island in like a half hour. I think it’s 11 miles.
HELEN: Yep, something like that.
NOELLE: And so it’s like you’re done almost before you realize that you started. And you get to see everything. And people are waving to you as you’re driving past on the bus, and then our actual tour guide, his grandma passed the bus on her moped, because everybody rides mopeds there, which was super funny. Because he was like “Where is she going?”
She was just motoring past us. So it was funny. And then we actually got to the boat, and it’s like the lagoon is just completely indescribable. I mean clear, turquoise water, and you get on the boat, and there’s tables. They have your towels laid out.
And you can see that they are preparing lunch, and everybody’s kind of like “Oh, what’s for lunch?” And we start going out on the boat, and it’s like the water and the scenery just keeps getting better and better. And we stopped a couple of points and did some snorkeling and just frolicking in the water. And we stopped at One-Foot Island?
HELEN: One-Foot Island, yeah.
NOELLE: One-Foot Island, and they go through the history of that and how it got its name. We got all of our passports stamped.
HELEN: The cute little foot stamp.
NOELLE: It is. It is. It absolutely is. They have this little foot stamp in your passport, and then we have this great lunch, which was—what did we have? Oh, it was like seared tuna. And unbelievable. The food was unbelievable. And then we stopped and frolicked in the water again, and it was just—what a great day.
HELEN: Did they have the sea grapes, where it was like little mini bunches of grapes, and they’re little tiny little beads? Did they have those there?
HELEN: They had those there when we were there, and I asked the guy, I said “What are these?” He goes, “Oh, they’re sea grapes.” And it’s just like these little mini bunches of grapes, and they’re probably about two inches in length as far as the bunch goes. And you bite into these little balls, and it was like little bubbles of seawater. And they were just—I had to get some more because they were so yummy. But you get to taste foods that you had never tasted before, and the food, I thought the food was amazing.
NOELLE: It was amazing.
HELEN: Yeah. And they gave you some great entertainment along the way too?
NOELLE: Oh yeah. I mean our guide; he was like—he was just a comedy act the whole time. And then they were doing like 50 ways to wear a—oh gosh, what are they called?
HELEN: The sarong?
NOELLE: The sarong, yeah. Different ways to tie it. And so he was doing it on men and women, and it was just—we were just cracking up all the way back because a lot of personality in the tour guides is all I have to say.
HELEN: And they’re not bad on the eyes, too, for those that want some eye candy.
NOELLE: [Laughter] Yes, it was a great, great time. I would recommend doing that tour for sure.
HELEN: Yes, that’s one of my favorite tours there in the Cook Islands to do. And I just think it’s a great day out on the water. And the fact that you get to visit some of the islands that they used in Survivor: Cook Islands was pretty cool too. And I remember seeing the hermit crabs, and I saw the little tiny ones that were just in their little small shells, through to these really big ones.
And I’d never seen hermit crabs before, so that was just fascinating to see them running along the sand and stuff, dragging along the shell. We actually had somebody in our group whose son had hermit crabs at home, so she was looking for empty shells for the hermit crab to grow into. Because apparently when they outgrow a shell, they look for a bigger shell and move into it. So she was looking for some bigger shells to take home.
NOELLE: Oh, that’s funny. Yeah, there were a couple of kids that were running around with hermit crabs, constantly switching them out for ones that had prettier shells, which I thought was pretty funny.
HELEN: They wouldn’t have gotten them off the island.
NOELLE: Yeah, no. The attention span of kids isn’t such that they keep track of things like that.
HELEN: Yeah, you can just distract them with something else and quietly put the hermit crab back where it goes. But yeah, the water there was just—
NOELLE: Yeah, probably.
HELEN: The thing that amazed me about the Cook Islands is the—sorry?
NOELLE: Is the water?
HELEN: Yeah, the water was just so crystal clear and so blue. It was just—I mean I had never seen anything like it. I’ve seen pictures, but when you’re actually—I mean pictures don’t do it justice. When you’re actually there and you’re in the water, yeah. It’s just wow. And you said you went snorkeling too, which is always fun to do. I’m not a snorkeler, so I found out.
NOELLE: Oh, well and yeah—
NOELLE: You didn’t like it?
HELEN: I used to have this big fear of water, and so it’s something I’ve only recently overcome. So to go—and even though I was able to stand in the water to put the snorkel on and to try and breathe through that tube, for me was a big challenge. And I had the guide from the Te Vaka, was standing there on the Te Vaka leaning over, giving me instructions on what to do and how to do it.
And every time I’d put my—every time I started lowering myself in the water, my chest would start constricting. So in the end I was just sort of like, “No, I’m just going to swim around here with my head above water and just try and go underwater without the tube and then just come back up, take a breath and go back down again.” So I just stayed in the area that when I know I put my feet down, I would hit the sand. So I didn’t go out into the deep areas to see the tropical fish and stuff.
NOELLE: So the giant Trevally didn’t come towards you? Did you get the giant Trevally that were there?
HELEN: Oh, yes. Those are big fish.
NOELLE: Whether you were in the water or not.
HELEN: I actually have video, because I had a video camera with me that can go under the water, down to like 10 meters, or 30 feet, and so I had that down. I would actually stand there with the camera under the water just watching these fish. And the captain of our Te Vaka was at the back—standing on the steps at the back, and he was cleaning the fish before grilling it. So he was putting off the waste into the water, and the fish were coming up and eating it. So I actually got video of some of that happening.
NOELLE: Yeah, that’s what was funny. They were like “Don’t leave your hands on the surface of the water,” because basically these fish, they always get fed, or they get scraps of stuff will basically come up and try to take your hand, or whatever, because they think that you’re trying to feed them.
HELEN: Yeah. I didn’t have that problem. They would swim around me, but they never came near me. Yeah.
NOELLE: Because everybody sort of stopped and was like “Wait. What?”
HELEN: Yeah, that’s your typical tour guide. And then of course, unfortunately, your vacation came to an end and you had to come home.
HELEN: Back to reality.
HELEN: So then I take it that you had a good time?
NOELLE: Oh, I had an excellent time. And you know for me, it was a good overview trip, so I know what I want to go back and see. There’s so much stuff that I didn’t see that I want to see, that I will definitely go back.
HELEN: Excellent. And do you have any advice for anybody going to New Zealand for the first time?
NOELLE: Oh boy, what would I say? Bring plenty of memory cards for your camera and just be open to whatever sort of happens. I mean you know for as much planning as we did, it’s like there is some stuff that didn’t work out, but there was always another option. It was just as fabulous. And just kind of—everybody was so friendly, that—and the scenery was so stunningly beautiful that you can’t have a bad time.
HELEN: Excellent. That’s good advice. Well, Noelle, I would like to say thank you very much again for taking time out of your day, and coming on the show and sharing your vacation with us. It’s always a pleasure to hear from people who we have helped plan send them the New Zealand and the Cook Islands, or anywhere in the Pacific, be it Australia, New Zealand or the Cook Islands, Samoa, wherever, but to hear the first-hand accounts I think is—and the experiences that you had while you were down there, has been amazing. So I’d like to say thank you very much for taking the time out of your day and coming on the show.
NOELLE: Of course.
HELEN: And for everybody else listening, if you would like to have more information about traveling to New Zealand, go to Have2GoNewZealand.com and set up for your free 1-hour consultation. And we will help you plan your trip to New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Australia, wherever you want to go in the South Pacific. And until next time, again, thank you again, Noelle. Until next time, Hei konei ra.